‘God’s retribution’: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh refuse return to conflict-ridden Myanmar

The refugees do not think the Arakan Army rebels, even if they take total control, will be anything different from the current military junta

Golam Mortuja Antubdnews24.com
Published : 11 Feb 2024, 10:45 PM
Updated : 11 Feb 2024, 10:45 PM

As hundreds of Myanmar Border Guard Police personnel, some with their families, have fled to Bangladesh amid fighting with rebels, Rohingya refugees see the development as “God’s revenge” for the genocidal military crackdown of 2017.

They are sharing videos of the BGP personnel running for their lives on Facebook, but even a rebel win over the military in the conflict ultimately brings no pleasure to any of the sides.

For Bangladesh, sending the refugees back to their homeland seems a far cry from something possible now as preventing a fresh exodus has become the latest challenge, analysts say.

Bangladesh has been directly hit by the conflicts, with at least two people killed in shellings from Myanmar. Bullets have hit people, homes and vehicles while launchers with live rockets are found on this side of the border.

Locals say many more Myanmar civilians other than the Rohingya are waiting to cross the border, but the Border Guard Bangladesh is firm on its stance to stop another exodus.

‘ANYWHERE BUT MYANMAR’

The refugees bdnews24.com talked to for this article said they are willing to stay in Bangladesh or travel to another country, but would not return to Myanmar.

Nurus Salam, a 30-year-old father of eight residing in a refugee camp at Ghumdhum border in Bandarban, recounted the horrors of the brutal military crackdown dubbed “ethnic cleansing” by the UN.

With his 6-month old baby daughter in his arms, Salam said he would have been able to raise his children in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by running a homestead had they been allowed to stay.

“But they didn’t allow us to do that. Now look how they are fleeing for their lives from the other side of the Naf river, all covered in mud.

“These are God's revenge. He sees everything.”

Salam said he will not return to Myanmar even if the military junta is defeated by the Arakan Army rebels.

He has his doubts if the rebels would ensure their safety. “The Arakan Army rebels are killing the government forces. They may kill us, too. I have no trust in them.”

Salam would go back only if Myanmar is governed in the way Bangladesh is ruled now, with equal rights for all under a stable government.

Md Yunus, a resident of Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee encampment in the world, came to visit his son who was arrested by police for trespassing with a group of armed Rohingya men.

“I of course have the will to return to my own country. We were told that we would be given citizenship cards and rights like the Hindu, Barua and Mogh communities in Myanmar. If we can’t live like free citizens, what’s the point in returning?”

Yunus described the rebels and Rohingya militants as terrorists.

“They can never take control, but continue fighting. They will never be able to govern the country.”

Rohingya militant leader Nabi Hossain in a recent video has urged youths of the ethnic minority group to take up arms against the Myanmar forces.

“He is a terrorist,” Yunus said about Nabi. “He killed us beforehand. And now we will be in the middle of a war if we go there.”

Md Ayub, a young Rohingya man, also said he was not ready to join Nabi.

“The Bangladesh government has taken our responsibilities. We will go only if they [Bangladesh] hand us to the Myanmar government under UN mediation. We will agree to the decision taken by the two governments under UN mediation.”

REPATRIATION BECOMES MORE UNCERTAIN

Maj Gen Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Siddiqui, director general of the BGB, said last week that they pushed back 75 Rohingya who tried to enter Bangladesh by boat through the Naf river.

M Gafuruddin Chowdhury, chairman of Palongkhali Union Council at Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar, said locals told him many Rohingya on boats are waiting to enter Bangladesh.

“We are alert now and communicating with the BGB regularly. No one will be allowed to enter Bangladesh this time.”

The situation has made it more difficult for Bangladesh to send back the over 1 million refugees residing in Bangladesh for years, some for decades, said retired Lt Gen Md Moyeenul Islam, a former BGB chief.

“But we don’t have the luxury of considering humane options this time. We must push back the Rohingya who are trying to enter now. The BGB can seal off the border completely with the help of the locals.”

Former ambassador retired Maj Gen Md Shahidul Haque, who had worked as the defence attache at the Bangladesh Embassy in Myanmar, also thinks Bangladesh does not have the capability to take more refugees in.

“If they start to enter Bangladesh like before, the situation may get out of control and put our security at risk,” he said.

Shafqat Munir, head of the Institute of Terrorism Research at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said the government should start thinking about what would happen if the central leadership in Myanmar collapses.

“Our first priority will have to be stopping further infiltration. We must consider the geopolitical and strategic issues while making decisions.”

[Writing in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]